BENTON, Ark. — This week should be full of joy and happiness for Jon Donnor as his restaurant 'Italy In Town' is set to open in Benton this Wednesday.
But that opening is coming along with a bittersweet feeling as the restaurant is actually the reopening of one that previously closed following the death of the owner.
"I just know him from helping so many people down here. Giving people free food as they walked by and if they needed a meal for the night," he said.
Before Donnor took over, Chico Santos was there. Chico unfortunately passed away from COVID complications just after Christmas.
"You just never know what's going to happen to somebody," Donnor said. "He was right around 50, so he should have had a lot more time with us."
Donnor's mom owns The Oil Shop across the street from his restaurant. Together, the family came up with an idea to keep the restaurant open – all to honor Chico.
Everything on the inside and outside of Italy In Town is essentially staying the exact same, with seating, décor, and even the menu only seeing slight changes.
The major change however, is to the name of the restaurant – from this point on, it'll now be called Italy In Town By Chico.
"We wanted to give some kind of shoutout to Chico by putting 'By Chico' under Italy In Town just to keep him in here," Donnor said. "Just his presence still in the restaurant, we thought that was really important."
Even the staff is staying mostly the same. When they heard the restaurant was reopening, many of them stayed on to work and said they loved working with Chico.
"It said a lot, just from that and it goes back into how awesome Chico was when he was here," Donnor said.
So while this week might be bittersweet, he said he's ready to make Chico proud.
"It really makes me happy, at the same time it makes me really nervous," Donnor said. "Just to be stepping in to someone's shoes that was so awesome up here."